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First drive: Mini Countryman C. Image by Mini.

First drive: Mini Countryman C
Will the least powerful of the petrol-powered Countryman models prove one of the most compelling options?

   



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2024 Mini Countryman C

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Mini has embarked on quite an ambitious revolution in 2024, and the first new arrival is the latest Countryman SUV. Setting the tone for the smaller models to follow, the new SUV promises more tech and more modernity, but will it be as compelling Ė or as popular Ė as its predecessors? Weíve already sampled the electric and high-performance petrol versions, which have given us a steer, but now itís time for the acid test: itís the turn of the basic, 1.5-litre petrol Countryman C.

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2024 Mini Countryman C Classic (Exclusive pictured)
Price: £35,825 (as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Power: 170hp
Torque: 280Nm
Emissions: 143g/km
Economy: 44.8mpg
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 132mph
Boot space: 460-1,450 litres

Styling

The Countryman is the first car in Mini's new-look range, so its design is quite a departure from that of the old car. Cleaner lines, more angular lights and a more distinctive daytime running light signature all feature, but some of the cues remain. The wide grille panel, for example, and the roof that contrasts with the black pillars, creating a kind of glasshouse sandwich. There are British-flag tail lights, too, although customers can customise those to a slightly less patriotic design if they so wish. Anyway, the upshot is the Countryman looks more modern than before, and while we're unsure as to whether that's a good thing or not, it's a move that's likely to prove popular with customers.

Interior

Miniís interiors were starting to feel a bit stale, but with the new breed, the BMW-owned brand has torn up the rulebook. Almost everything recognisable from the old car has gone, replaced with a clean, cool and deeply minimalist interior design that centres around a dashboard almost devoid of buttons. You get a little row of toggle switches (including a cool lollipop/key ignition switch and a little gear selector) but for the most part, the dash is a bare expanse of fabric.

And yes, that is right. There isnít much in the way of plastic on display, but thereís quite a lot of recycled fabric that gives the car a cool, soft and modern feel Ė presumably without hurting BMWís accountants too much. And though some parts of the car are clearly built to a price, particularly below knee level, the quality is generally very good.

But the centrepiece is unquestionably the new central screen, which is completely circular. Now, Mini has tried this trick before, but the new model really does have a circular screen; thereís no square-screen-in-a-round-housing trickery going on here. And it can be customised with various themes, including a Ďclassicí option that harks back to the original Minis of the 1950s and 1960s.

That screen uses BMWís latest-generation infotainment technology, and while itís all very good in the latest 5 Series, it feels a bit lost in the Mini. It isnít bad, but the circular screen and Mini styling has robbed it of some user-friendliness, and the screen itself feels occasionally hesitant. The display is brilliant, though, with really high resolution and solid interaction with the optional head-up display, should you specify such a thing.

An honourable mention should also go to the Countrymanís smart new seats, which seem very good indeed, and the new steering wheel, which is a bit incongruous in a Mini because it looks quite sporty, but the fabric Ďspokeí is a cool touch.

Practicality

The Countryman is the biggest and most practical car in Mini's range, and the company seems to be keen to make use of that. That's why there's a 460-litre boot that's 20 litres up on the VW T-Roc, and a really quite surprisingly generous amount of space in the rear seats. Four adults would be more than comfortable over any distance in the Countryman, even if they were all over six feet tall. And the cabin feels nice and airy thanks to Mini's decision to pare it back to a minimalist, fuss-free design.

Performance

The new-look Countryman is offered with a choice of five different powertrains, with three petrol options and two electric variants. The two electric versions are labelled E and SE, while there are two mainstream petrol options Ė C and S Ė plus a high-performance John Cooper Works (JCW) model. Regular readers will know weíve already sampled the SE and JCW models, but this is the turn of the entry-level C.

This base-spec option comes with a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that drives the front wheels through a seven-speed automatic gearbox. That system provides an ample 170hp, however, which is more than enough to be getting on with. Sure, it isnít as punchy as the 2.0-litre S and JCW models, but a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds is perfectly sufficient in a family SUV, as is the 132mph top speed.

But while this is the most economical combustion-powered Countryman out there Ė thereís no hybrid or diesel option at the moment Ė it still isnít all that fuel-efficient. Officially, itíll manage 44.8 miles on a gallon of unleaded, which is perfectly respectable, but itís hardly striking. With rivals still providing hybrid and diesel variants, it feels like a missed opportunity.

Ride & Handling

One of the key parts of the old Countrymanís appeal was the way it drove, and the new model clearly has one eye on handling prowess. Just one look at the weirdly sporty and slightly too thick steering wheel is enough to tell you that.

And so it turns out, with the Miniís springs providing respectable body control for such a tall car. There is movement, of course, but the big body stays in check at all times, with no sudden lurching or wallowing motions in corners. Combine that with neat, if not particularly spectacular steering and sufficient grip, and youíve got a car thatís quite happy cornering at speed, even if it never feels all that engaging. But for a base-spec family SUV, thatís hardly a criticism.

More scathing is our opinion of the ride, which feels quite brittle for a family car. It isnít desperately uncomfortable, but even the C feels every bit as stiff as the JCW model, and thatís supposed to be a performance SUV. It does settle down a bit as the speed builds, in fairness, but thereís a kind of low-key bubble to the way it progresses on even quite smooth roads. That said, it never feels unsettled or flustered Ė it just bobbles away no matter whatís going on under the wheels. So while a T-Roc might not be as much fun to drive, itís noticeably more comfortable.

Value

The Countryman starts at £29,335, and that pays for this entry-level C model in Classic trim, which is one of the three different levels customers can pick from. Not that you need to climb the range very much. Even the C Classic gets the central screen, roof rails, two-zone climate control and a rear-view camera, not to mention parking sensors, an electronically operated tailgate and satellite navigation.

Considering you get all that, and the 170hp engine, the Countryman looks like solid value alongside its rivals. The VW T-Roc is almost exactly £1,000 cheaper, but that's for the base model with a 1.0-litre engine. Like-for-like, the Mini comes out on top, even in Classic trim.

If you want, you can upgrade to the Exclusive (pictured) for bigger wheels, a heated steering wheel and some flashier seats, as well as a few other tweaks, or you can choose the Sport for a more race-inspired ambience. But there's really no need.

Instead, we'd go for one of the option packs, cunningly named Level 1, Level 2 and so on. Level 1 (£2,800) pays for keyless entry, heated front seats and a bigger fuel tank, as well as sliding rear seats, auto-dimming mirrors and, crucially, a head-up display, which saves you glancing over at the central screen. Level 2 (£5,300) adds a panoramic sunroof and a Harman/Kardon sound system, as well as all the Level 1 goodies. Level 3 (£7,500) is only available on Exclusive and JCW models, and it gets all sorts, including clever memory seats and augmented-reality navigation. Neither of which you really need.

Verdict

The Countryman has its flaws, but despite the brittle ride, it's a very likeable and capable family SUV. It's roomy, pleasant enough to drive and, even in this basic form, more than powerful enough for most. Add in the cool cabin and you've got a car that's more modern and more interesting than any of its rivals, as well as offering a choice of petrol and electric powertrains. In short, it'll have plenty of fans.



James Fossdyke - 8 Mar 2024



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2024 Mini Countryman C. Image by Mini.2024 Mini Countryman C. Image by Mini.2024 Mini Countryman C. Image by Mini.2024 Mini Countryman C. Image by Mini.2024 Mini Countryman C. Image by Mini.








 

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